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RV Safety from Start to Finish

Photo courtesy of Flickr user martinhoward

With RV safety, learning from experience is not the way to go. Nor is simply tossing salt over your shoulder or thinking things will (probably) be OK. The best route is to adopt good RV safety practices from start to finish. Begin by incorporating the following practices into your RV lifestyle. Being RV safe won’t disappoint!

Before You Go

Research your RV itinerary. If you’re in a motor coach or other large unit, you need to know about bridge and tunnel clearances, steep inclines, propane-on-board regulations. . . the list goes on. What’s more, states and municipalities have different laws. Research routing and itineraries online or using an RV GPS. Post a note with your rig’s dimensions on the dash so you can reference it when you see those clearance signs on bridges and service station canopies.

Make RV/travel checklists. Auto, RV, and roadside-emergency insurance up to date? Check. Scheduled car/truck, hitch-system, and RV maintenance performed? Check. RV campground reservations made? Check. Other things to do include leaving a copy of your itinerary with someone (and reporting in periodically) and programming emergency numbers into your cell. You should also have lists for packing and for shuttering your house (security system in order, lawn care or snow-removal arranged, etc.).

Inspect and prep your rig. Be sure that brake, tail, turn-signal, backup, head, running, and any other lights work. Look under your rig for fluid leaks. Inspect tires for irregular wear. (Even if tires look good, the rule of thumb is to replace them every seven years.) Check the alignment on all vehicles; rotate tires as needed. Also check air pressure when the tires are cold. Stow all slide-outs, antennas, hookups (electric, city water, dump hose), steps, jacks, awnings, and bay doors. Verify that hitches, if any, are ready to go.

Prepare for emergencies. Test LPG (liquefied petroleum gas/propane), carbon-monoxide, and smoke detectors. Pack roadside-emergency triangle flashers and cones as well as a first-aid kit. Stash flashlights where you can find them, even in the dark. Know where the emergency exits (pop-out windows) are and how to open them. Keep at least two fire extinguishers in your RV (one up front, say, in the galley area, and one in the rear/sleeping area) and a third in your tow vehicle. Be sure you know how to maintain and use them. Bring a basic tool set that includes wire, jumper cables, and duct tape.

Pack with weight in mind. Don’t exceed the gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of your motorhome, towable or tow vehicle. If in doubt, weigh your rig at a truck scale. Distribute and secure cargo evenly fore to aft and side to side, keeping a low center of gravity.

On the Road

Practice basic road safety. Everyone aboard a motorhome needs a seatbelt (and everyone in a tow vehicle should wear one), so buckle up. While driving, don’t be distracted by things like programming the GPS or selecting songs on the MP3 player–make one of your passengers a designated “navigator” to handle such things. Check the weather, and don’t plan to tow in icy, snowy, or windy conditions. Drive with your headlights on. If you make a pit stop lock all your doors and keep your cell phone with you.

Practice propane safety. When driving or refueling, turn off pilot lights, shut off the propane, and don’t use appliances (stove, refrigerator, furnace, auxiliary generator).

Remember: your rig is big. Be aware of blind spots. A good exterior RV mirror system is priceless, as is a motorhome backup camera/monitor. When turning corners or entering driveways, go slowly, and leave plenty of room for surrounding objects (again . . . exterior mirrors: priceless). When parking, choose a spot in an RV-parking zone, if available, or in a remote area of the lot, so other vehicles won’t block you when the lot gets full.

Use the 20% rule. That is, give yourself at least 20% more of the following than you would in a car: braking distance, space to turn, time to accelerate, time to merge into traffic, time with the turn signal on, and space between you and the vehicle ahead.

Stay calm in difficult driving situations. For instance, on narrow roads, there’s less room to drift in your lane and there might not be a shoulder. If a tire wanders off the road (1) take your foot off the gas, (2) steer straight ahead, (3) gently apply the brakes, and (4) put your turn signals on and gently move back onto the pavement. Never jerk the steering wheel, as this makes the tow vehicle, towable, or motorhome unstable.

Follow emergency-breakdown protocols. Park as far off the road as possible. Turn on the emergency flasher and set out cones and triangles behind your rig. Have everyone exit and stand away from the unit.

At a Destination

Enter campgrounds with care. Drive slowly and mindfully. Use a spotter to guide you around tight corners and watch for overhead clearance issues. Pull-through sites are great, but when they’re not available, you’ll have to back in to your spot–another time when having a spotter is vital.

Set up smartly. Before extending slide-outs, check clearances, and level your rig to prevent the chassis from twisting or the slides from binding. Don’t extend awnings in windy conditions. If your awning doesn’t have a wind-sensor auto-retract function, retract it when you leave your RV for any period of time so potential gusts don’t cause damage while you’re away.

Power things properly. Before plugging in, turn off the campground’s shore-power circuit breaker. When connecting, it’s best to match 50 amp to 50 amp and 30 amp to 30 amp. (There are adapters that let you go from one to another, but use these cautiously). Also, don’t operate auxiliary generators while you sleep. Carbon monoxide from improperly maintained systems can be deadly.

Be sanitary. Add or connect the freshwater (city-water) hose before touching sewer hoses. Wear latex gloves when handling dump hoses and wash your hands immediately afterwards. To give the system flushing action while preventing cross contamination, dump the black tank before the gray tank.

For more information on RV safety, check out the RV Safety and Education Foundation (RVSEF).